IT WAS reported last week that Ecuador’s foreign minister was travelling to the United Kingdom to demand the British government allow Julian Assange to sunbathe.
The story perfectly encapsulates the plight of the Australian WikiLeaks founder who will have spent a year inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London come Wednesday.
People who believe Mr Assange should go to Sweden to face sexual assault allegations find the fact he’s cooped up in the embassy a bit of a joke.
Supporters, however, are genuinely concerned about the damage to his health caused by the lack of sun; in particular, he risks rickets.
And then, of course, there’s the role of the media.
Some argue the foreign minister’s comments were mischievously mistranslated and Ricardo Patino was actually arguing for Mr Assange’s fundamental right to “sunlight”.
That’s quite different from suggesting he have access to a banana lounger.
Mr Assange walked into the embassy on 19 June, 2012 and was granted political asylum two months later on 16 August.
Mr Patino met with Mr Assange at the embassy on Monday morning Australian time ahead of talks with British Foreign Secretary William Hague.
The foreign minister assured him Ecuador remained committed to protecting his human rights “and continued to seek cast-iron assurances to avoid any onward extradition to a third state”.
All parties say they are hoping for a “diplomatic solution”, but an end to the impasse isn’t likely.
Mr Assange won’t leave the embassy because he faces immediate arrest and extradition to Sweden.
The former hacker is worried he’ll then be handed over to the US to face charges over WikiLeaks’ release of classified documents. He insists a sealed indictment has already been issued.
Ecuador wants Britain to guarantee Mr Assange won’t be extradited from Sweden to the US while the UK government says it simply has a legal duty to hand the Australian over to Swedish authorities.
Mr Assange argues international law actually requires the British to allow his safe passage to Latin America.
The stand-off means the former hacker has been stuck mainly in a small room in the embassy, which is just an apartment inside a Victorian red-brick building in the posh Knightsbridge district.
Police patrol outside 24 hours a day at an estimated cost of $A130,000 a week.
Mr Assange is diligent about maintaining his fitness. In September, he revealed that while he can’t leave the embassy, he runs up to 8km a day on a treadmill given to him by socialist film director Ken Loach.
He regularly sees a personal trainer and also does boxing and calisthenics. A UV lamp is his substitute for the sun.
People often assume Queensland-born Mr Assange has plenty of time on his hands, but he maintains he works 17-hour days running WikiLeaks.
In the past week, he’s also been busy with media interviews in the lead-up to Wednesday’s anniversary.
Mr Assange on Friday told reporters, including AAP, that US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden was “a hero”.
His comments came after it was reported the British government had warned airlines not to allow the ex-CIA employee to fly to Britain.
“(That’s) presumably because it doesn’t want to end up with another Julian Assange,” the WikiLeaks founder said.
“(But) his revelations disclose something that is important to nearly everyone in the world: the mass surveillance of everyone who uses the internet and the corruption of the major US IT companies such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook in that process.”
Mr Assange has managed to find time in his schedule to work on a song with Puerto Rican band Calle 13. It’s about “the new politics that came about as a result of the internet and media distortion”, he says.
Lead singer Residente last week tweeted a photo from inside the embassy to his five million followers and declared: “We support Assange because he is a victim of media manipulation.”
Mr Assange believes support from celebrities is important to WikiLeaks’ cause.
Prominent journalist John Pilger says Australians should admire Mr Assange’s spirit and what WikiLeaks has achieved.
“The truth doesn’t automatically change systems based on lies; it makes the liars defensive,” he tells AAP.
“(But) it does give the public information without which they can never change systems. That’s a venerable truism. It was information in the public domain that ended slavery, but only after a long struggle.”
Mr Pilger is one of many Mr Assange backers who lost thousands of pounds when the 41-year-old skipped bail in mid-2012 after losing his extradition battle in the British courts.
Former supporter Jemima Khan lost money too and later turned on Mr Assange.
In February, the socialite warned the WikiLeaks founder risked falling from a hero to the Australian version of L. Ron Hubbard who expected supporters to follow him “unquestioningly, in blinkered, cultish devotion”.
But Mr Assange’s biggest fan, his Brisbane-based mother Christine, remains resolute.
In the past week she has embraced Mr Patino’s comments and dedicated herself to a #Sun4Assange campaign on Twitter. She can fire off hundreds of tweets in a day.
She also uses the micro-blogging site to take on critics.
In January, many thought she went too far, however, when she tweeted that a “gang of rabid irrational frenzied ‘feminists’ will protest Julian’s video speech to Oxford Uni Students”.
A month earlier, Mr Assange had announced he was going to run for the Senate in the next federal election.
The WikiLeaks Party aims to run Senate candidates in Victoria, NSW and Western Australia. It’s unlikely the party will nominate for lower house seats.
Mr Assange is buoyed by recent opinion polls suggesting around 20 per cent of Australians would consider voting for his new party on14 September.
But ABC election analyst Antony Green has argued for months Mr Assange is unlikely to be elected.
WikiLeaks would need to secure five per cent of the primary vote and get both Labor and Green preferences.
Even if he were to beat the odds and survive any subsequent constitutional challenge Mr Assange could still face a final hurdle.
To take up his seat in mid-2014 he’d need to have left the Ecuadorean embassy in London and made his way to Canberra. – AAP